Don't be without business insurance

Special to The Times

Dear Karen: I read about the New York businesses that had to close for days and lost revenue after a steam pipe exploded. How do I protect my business from a disaster like that?

Answer: You should have business insurance coverage and you should review that coverage annually with your agent.

Most business owners' policies cover buildings and equipment, furnishings, fixtures, inventory, computers and valuable papers and records, said Jim Ruel, senior vice president of small-business insurance at Hartford Financial Services Group. "In addition, business interruption or business income coverage may provide replacement income if a disaster forces your business to suspend operations or relocate," he said.

Ask about safeguarding your financial and operational papers so you can file a claim or resume business from a remote location. It's also a good idea to check that your policies are in force and that your coverage is adequate to support your business, especially if it has grown.

"It's only natural to think 'it won't happen to me,' " Ruel said. "And odds are it probably won't. But why wait around to find out?"

How to get started on your website

Dear Karen: I know my company is late to the party, but we're just now getting around to needing a website. Should I outsource or try building it myself?

Answer: Think of a website as an extension of your physical storefront. If you think you can create a picture that does justice to your business, why not try?

Even if you can't do the full job yourself, you can keep costs down if you do as much brainstorming and mocking up as you can using site-building tools, said Larry Velez, founder of Sinu, which provides technology services for small companies.

"Get a stack of index cards. Without thinking too much about it, write one word per card for each idea you would like to present on your website.

"Your cards should start falling into a familiar structure that follows basic website categories like 'About Us,' 'Our Service,' 'Why Us' and 'Contact Us,' " Velez said.

Write three sentences for each card, and put that copy on your site. You can use off-the-shelf tools offered by all the major Internet platforms, such as Google, Yahoo, MSN and AOL.

If you want to make your website more complex, including blogs, traffic reporting or image pages, Velez recommended a program called Squarespace (squarespace.com). "We find Squarespace easy to use and flexible enough to be fully customized by a capable Web design firm, while retaining total control of content and architecture."

Professionals can aid online goals

Dear Karen: What should I look for when choosing someone to build my website?

Answer: That depends on what you want your website to accomplish. Will your site be mainly an online marketing tool? Or do you want to sell products and services through your site?

If your goal is the former, look for a Web designer with an attractive portfolio. If you want to do e-commerce or easily make changes to your site yourself, look for a Web developer, said Caroline Melberg, chief executive of Small Business Mavericks. Always check references.

"A Web developer is someone who not only can design your site, but can also program the functionality you will need for a database of your products, your shopping cart and a customized content management system that will allow you to easily update yourself," she said.

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Got a question about running or starting a small enterprise? E-mail it to karen.e.klein@ latimes.com or mail it to In Box, Los Angeles Times, 202 W. 1st St., Los Angeles, CA 90012

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